Young Goodman Brown

by: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Sin

1

I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war.

The Old Man, actually the Devil, explains to Goodman Brown that, contrary to Brown’s belief, he and the Brown family are well acquainted. He helped the elder Browns at some important events. The punishment of a religious “heretic” and an attack against Indians were normal and even celebrated actions for Puritan leadership, but the Devil’s involvement shows that both acts were sinful. In fact, many of the rules that defined Puritanism and were sources of pride, particularly the shunning of the “other,” were in the author’s opinion deeply immoral and a source of shame to him as a descendant.

2

‘My Faith is gone!’ cried he, after one stupefied moment. ‘There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, Devil, for to thee is this world given.’

When Goodman Brown realizes that Faith is being taken to the Devil’s service, he crumbles. The loss of his wife, Faith, literally means a loss of his faith, showing that he had put increasing store in Faith’s morality and their marriage to protect him from sin. Brown’s own faith is externalized in his wife. When the people around him are revealed as not good—or, in Faith’s case, just potentially not good—Brown apparently no longer wants to be good either. With this in mind, readers may infer that Brown behaved morally, then, not because of his own relationship with God or a true desire to do good but merely because piousness was the societal norm.

3

Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race.

Here, the Devil prepares to welcome Brown and Faith into his congregation, to which most of their neighbors already belong. As the Devil points out, each of the two had put faith in the other’s goodness as a source of their own belief and morality, but now each fears that the other is as sinful as everyone else. In fact, the Devil asserts, every human is evil, and now Brown and Faith know and should accept their rightful place with all the other sinners. The importance to a Puritan of being at one with the community must make the Devil’s invitation almost irresistible.

4

It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than human power—than my power at its utmost—can make manifest in deeds.

The Devil explains that sin exists as an inexhaustible power, more than his own influence or other human powers. In other words, the Devil does not cause sin: Sin is inherent in human nature. By being baptized by the Devil, Brown and Faith will now be able to see the sins of everyone else. This power is meant to help them see that in their sinful impulses they are just like everyone else. However, being able to see others’ sin, especially Faith’s, seems horrible to Brown. He has lost his innocence but not his sense of shame for himself and others.